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State v. Watts

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: 11-27-2013
Case #: A149317
Oretga, P.J. for the Court; Sercombe, J.; and Hadlock, J.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.publications.ojd.state.or.us/docs/A149317.pdf

Evidence: Admission of improper character evidence is not harmless when it relates to a central factual issue at bar.

Defendant appeals his convictions for one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine under ORS 475.894, and one count of unlawful delivery of methamphetamine within 1,000 feet of a school under ORS 475.892, arguing that trial court erred in admitting improper character evidence. Detective Rilee witnessed Defendant giving a bag to a woman, Chase, at a restaurant. After Defendant left, detective Rilee questioned Chase, searched the bag, and found 20 grams of methamphetamine and related paraphernalia. Defendant was pulled over on a traffic stop that same day, questioned, and denied knowledge of the bag, claiming he was in town to go hunting, fishing, and to buy car parts. Detective Rilee testified at trial that he believed Defendant was lying, based on his training and experience, because of Defendant's long pauses in the conversation. Defendant testified at trial he had no knowledge of the methamphetamine. The State conceded that the evidence was improperly admitted but argued that the error was harmless. The Court, applying State v. Davis, found that the error was not harmless because it related to knowledge, a central factual issue at bar. Additionally, the jury was likely affected by the erroneous evidence in assessing Defendant’s credibility. Reversed and remanded.